I crashed today. It wasn’t serious but it did provide the only respite to an otherwise dull and ho-hum ride.
I had started early today; and as I pedalled out of Oudomxai, I stopped to buy a couple of dumplings from a little Chinese shop which had its steamer outside on the sidewalk. A little further down the road, I also bought sticky-rice-in-bamboo, one of my favourite riding fuel. I was in high spirits, today being the first proper ride in Laos … but, it turned out to be quite anti-climactic instead.
There were no beautiful terraced rice fields to mesmerise me, there were no rugged gorges with wild flowing rivers to awe me, there were no inspiring mountain ranges to capture my imagination. The scenery was, for the most part, green yet colourless without any character. To compound it all, the climbs were not as easy as I thought it would be. 7 km out of town, I cranked up my low gears and started climbing, for 18 km. Then came a 10-km downhill after which, the gradient pointed up again.
This installment would go on for another 18 km until I reached the 1300m altitude mark. According to my notes, this was going to be the start of a long, sweet downhill all the way to Pak Mong. Well, I’m cool with that. It had been a hot, windless day, and I really hated climbing at snail’s pace without any wind to cool me down.
That was when I took the silly tumble.
I had just started rolling downhill, and as usual, I would turn around quickly to check that the loose items were all still there — the 1.5 litre water bottle, one of my sleeveless jersey that I wore on top of another jersey to ward off the cold air in the morning, and my shoes. They were all secured with a bungee cord, so a quick feel would reassure me that everything was still there.
This time, as I did the same, I had somehow inadvertently steered the bike to the left and as I turned back, it wasn’t the familiar road that faced me but a shallow ditch. It was all over in a matter of seconds. I went down with the bike, crashing onto my right side, and my right shoulder. For a few seconds, I just laid there in the ditch a little dazed, I cursed myself for being so careless while negotiating a bend.
The right pannier had come off the rack and the handlebar was facing backwards. Thankfully I only suffered a slight bruise to my shoulder, but my confidence had taken a more severe beating. After I recomposed myself and put the pannier back, I did a quick check and everything seemed to be ok. I pushed off, still cursing myself. Then I noticed the rear derailleur shifter seemed to be a bit loose as if the pawls inside were broken. Oh shit … I couldn’t shift up to the smaller gears. Luckily, it was all downhill from here so I could still ride to Pak Mong. Looks like I’d have to get my hands greasy later.
Pak Mong was another disappointing looking town. All the action is focused at the main junction. I stopped at a Chinese restaurant which doubled as a guest-house with its rooms located upstairs. It didn’t pass inspection, so I went to the one opposite which doubled as a convenience store. It was just as bad. Besides, neither of them could have promised a quiet night due to their location. I decided to ride further down the road in the direction of the town I would be heading to the next day.
500m later, next to a petrol station, I saw a sign for a guest-house — the Keo Savang GH. It wasn’t much better than the other 2 but at least it was quiet. After I checked in, I went in search of food. The owner of the guest house, one Mr Keo Savang, was already in fine form, face ruddy with the effects of one Beer Lao too many from entertaining his trucker guests who were all gathered at a table outside.
Mr. Savang loudly invited me to join them and even hinted that I need not be alone that night as he gave me that sly, pimpish look and pointed to 2 Lao girls sitting with the truckers. I quickly extricated myself from his friendly hold on me and made my way to the cafe next door for my lunch/dinner. It seems Keo Savang guest-house wasn’t just a guest-house after all.
After the usual game of charade to communicate my lunch needs, I was served fried river fish, fried eggs and a huge helping of sticky rice. It never tasted better, especially when you’ve been on the road for many hours. A bottle of Beer Lao helps in unwinding, too. Again, as usual, I slouched there for a bit while I reflected upon the day’s ride, and also to update my notes.
After my meal, I went back to the room and got down to work on the rear derailleur.
The prognosis was good. I would still be able to make it all the way to Vientiane without any problems. The shifter was partly busted and was good for only 5 indexed shifts (I was running an 8-speed cogset). The solution was simple, I loosened the cable and after a few attempts, I realigned the derailleur so that my biggest gear was now only #5 but my bottom gear would still be the same 32-teeth cog. Thank God for that. Relieved, and after some fine-tuning, I finally settled down to unwind and by 9pm, with ear-plugs firmly in place; and shoulder still sore from the crash, I was out like a light.
Oudomxai-Pak Mong, Laos – 85km
Total ride time – 6hrs
Total ascent -1160m
Total descent – 1380m
Max elevation – 1300m
Total distance to date – 640km
Flat and easy for 7 km out of town
Climb 18km then down 10km
Climb again until 54km mark then downhill all the way to Pak Mong.